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OHB awarded a study for 3D printing on the moon

(15 February 2018 - OHB) OHB System AG, a subsidiary of the Bremen-based space and technology group OHB SE, signed a contract with the European Space Agency ESA for a study “Conceiving a Lunar Base Using 3D Printing Technologies”.

OHB is leading a team with three more partners (Comex, Liquifer, Sonaca). The team will evaluate the feasibility and implementation effort of using Additive Layer Manufacturing in the construction, operations and maintenance of a lunar base.

Logistics and bringing needed items into space or onto a planetary surface remains as one of the major constraints in long-term human space missions. Experts across the space sector have shown great interest in the utilization of lunar resources as the next logical step in implementing a global strategy for human exploration of the solar system. Therefore, the key to any sustainable presence in space is the ability to manufacture necessary structures, needed items and spares, in situ and on demand. This can reduce the cost and the volume of cargo missions launched from Earth, if a substantial part of the items needed for long-duration missions can be produced locally. Additive manufacturing technologies represent a potential solution to achieve this objective, as they can decrease the lead time from design to implementation and reduce manufacturing waste, while at the same time increasing recyclability and the ability to produce optimized on-demand parts.

The study will look into the ability of such additive manufacturing techniques by performing two parallel surveys. The first one is concerned with mapping the required hardware for a continuously human tended lunar base. From permanent infrastructures to “on demand” items, a wide range of elements of different scales will be investigated for their potential to be 3D printed. The other survey is an analysis of available additive layer manufacturing technologies and their potential capabilities in a lunar environment. The assessment includes the state of the art of 3D printing related to several materials such as metals, polymers, ceramics, concrete, food ingredients, and living tissues. One objective is to use or reuse, a maximum of elements needed for inhabiting a future lunar station. In this respect, the material from recycled items could serve as printing material and therefore be used several times. While such technology is primordial for future missions in a lunar base, ESA and its consortium also expect terrestrial spin-off technologies from the project.